Writing reviews for Exhibitions

by Suzy Walker-Toye

I wanted to write a quick blog post about this because I’ve been surprised by a few related things recently. Firstly how many people turn up to study visits with a camera. I’ve only been on a couple of OCA study days now. On my first study visit I was surprised at the number of people snapping away, at each other, at the work on display – everything. My first thought, “I thought we were here to study”, my second, “what a good idea” if the gallery owner doesn’t mind (and in the Saatchi gallery they don’t seem to stop you – this has been where my two visits have been so far). I was expecting to use the photos as an aid-memoir for my write up and to put that write up in my private learning log. I have been surprised by the number of students who’ve actually used those photos in their public blog – thus demonstration a basic lack of understanding (or perhaps just a disregard) of copyright law. As digital artists our work is subject to those same laws so I would have thought we’d like it respected? I certainly do. My first study visit photos were in a private learning log so I could happily talk about the work (I’m a visual person, I have great respect for those who can read or write about a photo without looking at it or showing it but I’m not really one of those people – or at least, its not a skill I’ve yet developed) because the Saatchi Gallery never got back to me about a press pack.

This is the second thing that surprised me recently, the number of people I spoke to who didn’t know what a press pack is. And mainly the reason for this post. I used one for my recent Prix Pictet  and Wildlife of the year reviews.  Basically a press pack is a pre-prepared set of information and or some images (and the license to use them) that the PR company supply to members of the press who want to review/write about of otherwise promote their event. When a gallery make an exhibition they need to promote it, so it makes sense when you think about it. When I go to an exhibition that’s worth visiting I want to share it with the world so I contact the gallery or sponsors press team and ask for the press pack. Although not technically accredited members of the press, bloggers are an important promo tool for event markers and as long as you adhere to the terms & conditions of the press pack you’ll often get access to photos and captions and other information to use with permission. All legal & above board. The main terms to note are usually how & where they want you to list the copyright for the images. And that your post is all about the exhibition (and not using the images for some other random usage).

My request is usually an email or filled in contact for that is simple and to the point and not trying to be something I’m not – here is an example I’ve used recently:

Subject: Press pack for blog use?

I would like to inquire if you have available a press pack for the <insert exhibition name here> exhibition. I am writing up a review on my blog and would like to use some photos with credit & permission within it?
many thanks

I hope that clears things up for a few people but feel free to comment or contact me if you have any questions. Also worth checking out is this post by Amano on Photographing Study Days.


One Comment to “Writing reviews for Exhibitions”

  1. I would like to respond to this article which gives good advice including a template; there is in fact a link to it from my own article “Photographing on study days” mentioned at the very end.

    As students of photography, we are not being asked to write a review but a blog, a personal response to what one sees; although public, it is not really intended for general consumption.

    Making our own photographs helps in this particularly in considering not just the images but the gallery space. It also helps in developing our own photography.

    Apart from obvious copyright issues, simply photographing other people’s photographs is unimaginative although if used for strictly private viewing as an aid to better understanding the work it makes sense.

    I have collected an array of images of which some have been collected and made into a slideshow which appears at the beginning of my article. If I was to take this work further then I would need to start contacting people such as gallery owners and possibly people in the images as well as the OCA. Usually, credits are enough unless one wants to make it into a consumer product of some kind such as a Blurb book that is also being offered for sale.

    Legal issues around copyright are complex.

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